Justice Department to no longer refer to people as "felons" or "convicts"

You may recall a recent change at the Library of Congress wherein they decided to abandon the term “illegal alien” in favor of “noncitizen.” Clearly words matter these days, and we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings even if the accuracy of our language must take a few hits in the process of creating a kinder and gentler lexicon. Lest we think this was a one off event, the trend is spreading to the Department of Justice now. The nation’s top legal enforcers will be similarly modifying their language to remove such offense terms as felon and convict. No… I’m not making this up. (Daily Caller)

An official with the Department of Justice said the agency will no longer call people “felons” or “convicts” after they are released from prison because it is too hard on them emotionally.

Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason wrote a piece in The Washington Post Wednesday saying “many of the formerly incarcerated men, women, and young people I talk with say that no punishment is harsher than being permanently branded a ‘felon’ or ‘offender.’”

Mason said the decision is not to condone their behavior, but to use words to help them reenter society.

As ridiculous as this may sound, it’s possible to sympathize with Mason’s underlying motives here. In an ideal world you’d like to see the corrections process be a system where people learn from the errors of their ways and return from incarceration as reformed members of society who are ready to take on a productive role. There’s another entire debate to be had over whether recidivism rates are so high because the penal system adds to the burden of those exiting prison or if they were simply bound for a life of crime in any event.

But at the same time, there is a price to be paid for violating the law and choosing to exist outside the normal boundaries of civilization, and that continues on after having done your time. Employers can and should take previous actions into account when it comes to crime in the same fashion as they evaluate previous job performance. Surely an applicant who has a proven record of stealing from their employer can be fairly judged in the same way they would be if they’d been repeatedly discharged for incompetence.

Going beyond that, how much less judgemental will the new language be? Mason is proposing using phrases including, “person who committed a crime” and “individual who was incarcerated.” Here’s where we come to a key distinction between the LoC decision about the term “illegal alien” and the Department of Justice. The former is rewriting the books and changing – or at least confusing – the meaning of the language. But all Mason is doing is substituting a definition of a word for the word itself. A person who committed a crime is, in fact, a felon if the crime was a felony. Similarly, prisoners who were incarcerated were obviously convicted of something, making them convicts. Should we stop referring to them as “prisoners” while they’re still in the slammer?

We’re seeing more and more political correctness in the federal government these days. It accomplishes nothing at best and muddies the waters of communication in most cases. But I suppose it wins a few votes for Democrats in the fall and makes people feel better so it’s all good, right?


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